Prosecutors in the case against two Reuters news agency journalists on trial in Myanmar for possessing state secrets produced a new police witness on Wednesday, who denied the testimony of another police officer that authorities had set up the reporters in a sting operation.
Police Lance Corporal Naing Lin testified in court that he met the two reporters — Thet Oo Maung, also known as Wa Lone, and Kyaw Soe Oo — on the night of their arrest on Dec. 12, but denied handing over classified documents to incriminate them.
The two were taken into custody on the outskirts of Yangon shortly after they had dinner with two police officers who gave them documents related to a brutal military crackdown on Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state. They were formally charged on Jan. 10 and face up to 14 years in prison if found guilty.
Naing Lin’s testimony contradicted that of Captain Moe Yan Naing, another witness for the prosecution, who testified in court on April 20 that Police Brigadier General Tin Ko Ko had ordered Police Sergeant Naing Lin and another officer to set up the reporters.
At that hearing, Moe Yan Naing said Tin Ko Ko, who was in charge of the internal investigation, told Naing Lin to set up a meeting with Wa Lone and give him documents from Police Security Battalion 8, which was stationed in Rakhine state between April and November 2017.
At the time of their arrest, the two reporters were working on a story about the murders of 10 Rohingya Muslim civilians from Inn Din village in Rakhine state.
Moe Yan Naing said he himself met Wa Lone once on Nov. 23 at a teahouse to discuss police operations in Rakhine, but he was not among the officers when the two reporters were arrested. He also said he had never met with Kyaw Soe Oo.
Moe Yan Naing was arrested in December after being identified as one of two policemen involved in the case along with Khin Maung Lin who also was detained on Dec. 12 on charges of violating the British colonial-era Official Secrets Act and the Police Disciplinary Act.
The whistleblower was sentenced to a year in Yangon’s Insein Prison under the Police Discipline Law for handing classified information to the reporters, and authorities ordered his wife and three children to move out of a police housing complex.
During Wednesday’s hearing, Naing Lin said he himself had been investigated as well and had spent nine days in police custody, but did not know what had become of Khin Maung Lin.
“He said he didn’t know where Sergeant Khin Maung Lin is,” Than Zaw Aung, a lawyer for the reporters, told the media.
“The Police Information Team testified today in court that Khin Maung Lin had been fired from the police force,” he said.
‘His testimony is wrong’
After the session, when reporters questioned Naing Lin about Moe Yan Naing’s testimony, he only responded that he himself had testified truthfully at court.
“I am disappointed to hear what Naing Lin said at court,” Wa Lone told reporters. “His testimony is wrong. He said we had met him and asked him about Inn Din case. Only this is correct. Kyaw Soe Oo and I met him along with another policeman whom we didn’t know, but he said at court that he met us alone.”
Than Zaw Aung told the media that Naing Lin said in court that he could not refuse an order from Tin Ko Ko because the police brigadier general was his superior.
“What we know is that Naing Lin and other official from the special branch took Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo to the restaurant, through Naing Lin said that only he took them,” the attorney said.
The military-controlled Ministry of Home Affairs, which oversees the country’s police, has denied accusations that police set up the reporters, Police Chief Major General Aung Win Oo said at a press conference in the capital Naypyidaw on Tuesday.
He also said that Tin Ko Ko has not been charged or has had action taken against him because he did not order the entrapment of the Reuters reporters.
Reported by Aung Theinkha for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.